Welcome to the Q&A and giveaway for the June 2020 edition of my Bartography Express newsletter, which you can view here and sign up for here.

My two-question Q&A this month is with Massachusetts-based author Kelly Carey and New York City-dwelling illustrator Qing Zhuang, creators of How Long Is Forever? This picture book, a debut both for Kelly and for Qing, centers on a warmly philosophical conversation between young Mason and his grandfather while they wait for a blueberry pie to finish baking. How Long Is Forever? came out a couple of months ago from Charlesbridge Publishing.

In its appraisal of the book, Kirkus Reviews said, “This simple story sweetly portrays a realistic, loving relationship. Listeners on laps or in group settings will eagerly volunteer examples of how long forever is and when they had to wait for desired things. Commendably, the tale helps youngsters approach an abstract math concept—time—concretely and creatively.”

I’m giving away one copy of How Long Is Forever? to a Bartography Express subscriber with a US mailing address. If you want that winner to be you, just let me know (in the comments below or by emailing me) before midnight on June 30, and I’ll enter you in the drawing.

In the meantime, please enjoy my two-question Q&A with Kelly Carey and Qing Zhuang.

Chris: What part of bringing How Long Is Forever? out into the world felt like it took the longest, and which part of the process actually did take the longest?

Kelly: The part of bringing How Long Is Forever? out into the world that felt the longest was the quiet cricket months from the time Charlesbridge bought the manuscript to the actual publication. Two years went by from the time of the call from Charlesbridge to publication.

Author Kelly Carey; photo by Carter Hasegawa

As the author, I went from working weekly on the manuscript over years—and then this crescendo of excitement when Charlesbridge called to say it would be a book—to absolute silence.

Charlesbridge and Qing needed time to work and my job was to sit down and be quiet. I stink at being quiet (ask every grade school teacher I’ve ever had!). It was hard to give over the bustle of creative energy I had poured into this book to new folks and wait. I’m grateful that the project landed in such caring and competent hands—and I’m grateful for duct tape (sometimes it’s the only thing that can help me zip my lip!).

The part that actually took the longest was finding my voice and skill as a writer. This took much longer than two years! While you are learning and on the journey, the fun and excitement make the time fly. That’s how you know you’ve found your passion. When I look back at my early manuscripts, I realize how far my writing had to come and how much I had to learn before I was ready to have a book worthy of publication.

The part that actually took the longest, becoming a skilled writer, was the easiest to endure. The final two years, waiting for How Long Is Forever? to become a book I could share with readers, was the shortest and hardest to wait through.

Qing: Wow, Kelly said it best—the road to having my work at publishable quality took the longest! I have wanted to make picture books for as long as I can remember and knew that I wanted to go to art school and study illustration at an early age. It was very expensive but I graduated knowing I could do so much better.

It took about 8 years out of school for me to feel like my work represented what I wanted to convey. Everyone I knew probably thought I made an unwise career choice. It took a lot of stubborn conviction to keep going, and I’m so glad I did!

The part that felt the longest (and honestly it did take TOO LONG)—allow me to nerd out a bit here—was trying to decide what type of paper to use!

I was used to using a smooth kind of watercolor paper called “hot press” paper valued by illustrators for the easy scanning but I wanted to try rougher kind of paper called “cold press” valued more by serious watercolorists for its beautiful textures. Different brands also have variations of both types of these papers.

I was maddeningly torn between all the different paper types so I did so many different drafts on what must have been 6 different types of paper. I ended up with a moderately textured cold press paper because the texture would allow for a livelier depiction of water in a spread where Mason is playing in a stream. Anyway, that was pretty nerdy, but now you know!

Chris: I expect that readers of How Long Is Forever? and of this Q&A will be able to relate to those sorts of perceptions—and misperceptions—of how long things take, especially this spring.

For each of you these past several weeks, is there anything that used to seem to take too long but which you have suddenly found time for?

Illustrator Qing Zhuang

Qing: Actually many things have started taking longer! There are added stresses and disruptions to routine and productivity that I won’t go into detail here, though I’m sure your readers will be able to relate.

I think the one thing that I have suddenly found time for is to learn to cook. As I’m typing I am waiting for a cheesecake to solidify in the freezer. It’s technically not cooking and technically cheesecake is not a priority right now, but working with different dairy products and gelatin, delighting in the visual splendor of halved strawberries brings tactile and psychic joy.

(I should’ve answered that the fall of sanity…is something I thought would take longer…until this quarantine.)

Anyway, How Long Is Forever? features the universal joy and love of homemade sweets, so indulge in a copy, everyone!

Kelly: I totally agree with Qing. Things seem to be taking longer. I think I’m pushing through pandemic molasses.

Maybe it’s because everyone is home. I went from having three college-age children who were rarely home to having three college-age children who ARE ALWAYS HOME! We are finding time for more family meals. If you can’t make any other plans or go anywhere, then you are always home for a shared supper.

Every day, I jokingly ask my family, “Will you be around for dinner tonight?” My kids will tell you that question did not take forever to get old but it’s still making me laugh.

We are also finding that it is not taking forever for the dishwasher to be full, the laundry basket to be overflowing, and for us to run out of ice cream! I am however, spending a lot more time reading books in my backyard. I usually set aside reading time for audio books in the car or reading before bed, but during quarantine, there are so many more opportunities to relax and escape the house by jumping into a good book.

I’m going to head outside and do that right now. Maybe with a bowl of ice cream (fingers crossed there is some left!).